Keen competition is expected for jobs because many talented individuals are
attracted to this occupation.
About 26 percent are self-employed.
Postsecondary education—especially a bachelor’s degree—is recommended for
entry-level positions; some States license interior designers.
Nature of the Work
Interior designers draw upon many disciplines to enhance the function, safety, and
aesthetics of interior spaces. Their main concerns are with how different colors, textures,
furniture, lighting, and space work together to meet the needs of a building’s occupants.
Designers plan interior spaces of almost every type of building, including offices, airport
terminals, theaters, shopping malls, restaurants, hotels, schools, hospitals, and private
residences. Good design can boost office productivity, increase sales, attract a more
affluent clientele, provide a more relaxing hospital stay, or increase a building’s market
Traditionally, most interior designers focused on decorating—choosing a style and color
palette and then selecting appropriate furniture, floor and window coverings, artwork, and
lighting. However, an increasing number of designers are becoming involved in
architectural detailing, such as crown molding and built-in bookshelves, and in planning
layouts of buildings undergoing renovation, including helping to determine the location
of windows, stairways, escalators, and walkways.
Interior designers must be able to read blueprints, understand building and fire codes, and
know how to make space accessible to people who are disabled. Designers frequently
collaborate with architects, electricians, and building contractors to ensure that designs
are safe and meet construction requirements.
Whatever space they are working on, almost all designers follow the same process. The
first step, known as programming, is to determine the client’s needs and wishes. The
designer usually meets face-to-face with the client to find out how the space will be used
and to get an idea of the client’s preferences and budget. For example, the designer might
inquire about a family’s cooking habits if the family is remodeling a kitchen or ask about
a store or restaurant’s target customer in order to pick an appropriate motif. The designer
also will visit the space to take inventory of existing furniture and equipment and identify
positive attributes of the space and potential problems.
Then, the designer formulates a design plan and estimates costs. Today, designs often are
created with the use of computer-aided design (CAD), which provides more detail and
easier corrections than sketches made by hand. Once the designer completes the proposed
design, he or she will present it to the client and make revisions based on the client’s
When the design concept is decided upon, the designer will begin specifying the
materials, finishes, and furnishings required, such as furniture, lighting, flooring, wall
covering, and artwork. Depending on the complexity of the project, the designer also
might submit drawings for approval by a construction inspector to ensure that the design
meets building codes. If a project requires structural work, the designer works with an
architect or engineer for that part of the project. Most designs also require the hiring of
contractors to do technical work, such as lighting, plumbing, or electrical wiring. Often
designers choose contractors and write work contracts.
Finally, the designer develops a timeline for the project, coordinates contractor work
schedules, and makes sure work is completed on time. The designer oversees the
installation of the design elements, and after the project is complete, the designer,
together with the client, pay follow-up visits to the building site to ensure that the client is
satisfied. If the client is not satisfied, the designer makes corrections.
Designers who work for furniture or home and garden stores sell merchandise in addition
to offering design services. In-store designers provide services, such as selecting a style
and color scheme that fits the client’s needs or finding suitable accessories and lighting,
similar to those offered by other interior designers. However, in-store designers rarely
visit clients’ spaces and use only a particular store’s products or catalogs.
Interior designers sometimes supervise assistants who carry out their plans and perform
administrative tasks, such as reviewing catalogues and ordering samples. Designers who
run their own businesses also may devote considerable time to developing new business
contacts, examining equipment and space needs, and attending to business matters.
Although most interior designers do many kinds of projects, some specialize in one area
of interior design. Some specialize in the type of building space—usually residential or
commercial—while others specialize in a certain design element or type of client, such as
health care facilities. The most common specialties of this kind are lighting, kitchen and
bath, and closet designs. However, designers can specialize in almost any area of design,
including acoustics and noise abatement, security, electronics and home theaters, home
spas, and indoor gardens.
Three areas of design that are becoming increasingly popular are ergonomic design, elder
design, and environmental—or green—design. Ergonomic design involves designing
work spaces and furniture that emphasize good posture and minimize muscle strain on
the body. Elder design involves planning interior space to aid in the movement of people
who are elderly and disabled. Green design involves selecting furniture and carpets that
are free of chemicals and hypoallergenic and selecting construction materials that are
energy efficient or are made from renewable resources
Work environment. Working conditions and places of employment vary. Interior
designers employed by large corporations or design firms generally work regular hours in
well-lighted and comfortable settings. Designers in smaller design consulting firms or
those who freelance generally work on a contract, or job, basis. They frequently adjust
their workday to suit their clients’ schedules and deadlines, meeting with clients during
evening or weekend hours when necessary. Consultants and self-employed designers tend
to work longer hours and in smaller, more congested environments.
Interior designers may work under stress to meet deadlines, stay on budget, and please
clients. Self-employed designers also are under pressure to find new clients to maintain a
Designers may work in their own offices or studios or in clients’ homes or offices. They
also may travel to other locations, such as showrooms, design centers, clients’ exhibit
sites, and manufacturing facilities. With the increased speed and sophistication of
computers and advanced communications networks, designers may form international
design teams, serve a more geographically dispersed clientele, research design
alternatives by using information on the Internet, and purchase supplies electronically.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Postsecondary education, especially a bachelor’s degree, is recommended for entry-level
positions in interior design. Two-year and 3-year programs also are available. Some
States license interior designers.
Education and training. Postsecondary education, especially a bachelor’s degree, is
recommended for entry-level positions in interior design. Training programs are available
from professional design schools or from colleges and universities and usually take 2 to 4
years to complete. Graduates of 2-year or 3-year programs are awarded certificates or
associate degrees in interior design and normally qualify as assistants to interior designers
upon graduation. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree usually qualify for a formal design
The National Association of Schools of Art and Design accredits approximately 250
postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design. Most of these schools award a
degree in interior design. Applicants may be required to submit sketches and other
examples of their artistic ability. Basic coursework includes computer-aided design
(CAD), drawing, perspective, spatial planning, color and fabrics, furniture design,
architecture, ergonomics, ethics, and psychology.
The National Council for Interior Design Accreditation also accredits interior design
programs that lead to a bachelor’s degree. In 2007, there were 145 accredited bachelor’s
degree programs in interior design in the United States; most are part of schools or
departments of art, architecture, and home economics.
After the completion of formal training, interior designers will enter a 1-year to 3-year
apprenticeship to gain experience before taking a licensing exam. Most apprentices work
in design or architecture firms under the supervision of an experienced designer.
Apprentices also may choose to gain experience working as an in-store designer in
furniture stores. The National Council of Interior Design offers the Interior Design
Experience Program, which helps entry-level interior designers gain valuable work
experience by supervising work experience and offering mentoring services and
workshops to new designers.
Licensure. Twenty-three States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico register or
license interior designers. The National Council administers the licensing exam for
Interior Design Qualification. To be eligible to take the exam, applicants must have at
least 6 years of combined education and experience in interior design, of which at least 2
years must be postsecondary education in design.
Once candidates have passed the qualifying exam, they are granted the title of Certified,
Registered, or Licensed Interior Designer, depending on the State. Continuing education
is required to maintain licensure.
Other qualifications. Membership in a professional association is one indication of an
interior designer’s qualifications and professional standing. The American Society of
Interior Designers is the largest professional association for interior designers in the
United States. Interior designers can qualify for membership with at least a 2-year degree
and work experience.
Employers increasingly prefer interior designers who are familiar with computer-aided
design software and the basics of architecture and engineering to ensure that their designs
meet building safety codes.
In addition to possessing technical knowledge, interior designers must be creative,
imaginative, and persistent and must be able to communicate their ideas visually,
verbally, and in writing. Because tastes in style can change quickly, designers need to be
well read, open to new ideas and influences, and quick to react to changing trends.
Problem-solving skills and the ability to work independently and under pressure are
additional important traits. People in this field need self-discipline to start projects on
their own, to budget their time, and to meet deadlines and production schedules. Good
business sense and sales ability also are important, especially for those who freelance or
run their own business.
Certification and advancement. Optional certifications in kitchen and bath design are
available from the National Kitchen and Bath Association. The association offers three
different levels of certification for kitchen and bath designers, each achieved through
training seminars and certification exams.
Beginning interior designers receive on-the-job training and normally need 1 to 3 years of
training before they can advance to higher level positions. Experienced designers in large
firms may advance to chief designer, design department head, or some other supervisory
position. Some experienced designers open their own firms or decide to specialize in one
aspect of interior design. Other designers leave the occupation to become teachers in
schools of design or in colleges and universities. Many faculty members continue to
consult privately or operate small design studios to complement their classroom
Suggested citation: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, Interior designers, on the Internet at
http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos293.htm (visited April 17, 2008).